Changes to the Affordable Care Act, a proliferation of paid leave laws and the evolution of private exchanges were just a few of the headlines keeping benefits professionals on their toes in 2016. Add to the mix the regulatory uncertainty that comes with a new U.S. administration taking the helm and 2017 promises to be another interesting year. Here are a few benefits trends to consider as we embark on the New Year.
1. Think of benefits as a talent magnet.
As an estimated 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day and a smaller number of Generation X workers are entering the workforce to fill open positions, the market for skilled workers continues to tighten. With this in mind, companies looking for a competitive hiring advantage are using benefits as a lever to attract and retain talent.
According to MetLife, 57 percent of employees would stay with their employer if their benefits improved. Further, 78 percent of workers say the benefits package is crucial to their decision to accept or reject a job.
How well (or poorly) you market your benefits can define how your employment brand is perceived, and sends a message about your entire corporate culture. For example, many of us have heard about certain companies that offer unlimited parental leave or generous tuition assistance programs. As employee expectations grow, employers have a huge opportunity to cultivate a benefits package that works for everyone and then market those benefits to entice top talent.
2. Forget the “one-size-fits-all” benefits model. It's all about “mass personalization.”
No two smartphones look the same once users start adding apps and organizing them to their personal preferences. The same is true for benefits. Allowing employees to purchase an array of benefits that they can tailor to their unique lifestyle creates a higher degree of engagement.
To do this, employers need to provide benefits options that are customized to a multi-generational workforce. According to the 2016 ADP Employee Engagement Study, younger workers tend to seek education-related perks and paid maternity/paternity leave, while boomers are more interested in employee discount and wellness programs. It's important to take these kinds of preferences into consideration to ensure employees feel recognized and valued.
Further, some companies are now using Big Data and analytics to personalize benefits choices towards “people like you,” in categories such as early career, newlyweds, new parents, and those exploring retirement. For example, the data may highlight how recent college graduates favor allocations of benefits to student loan repayments over health care or life insurance.
3. Health and wealth: The expanding definition of benefits and wellness.
Benefits will continue to expand beyond health care to incorporate lifestyle or non-insurance perks like gym memberships, cell phone plans and year-round career training. More companies are now offering benefits like identity theft insurance, pet insurance, tuition assistance, elder care, adoption assistance, and student loan repayment.
The definition of wellness is also expanding to include a focus on financial wellness. According to PwC's “2016 Employee Financial Wellness Survey,” financial stress rose in 2016, with 52 percent of employees worrying about their finances.
Further, 79 percent of millennials said their student loans had a moderate or significant impact on their ability to meet other financial goals, and 43 percent of all employees predicted they’d have to use money from their retirement plans for non-retirement expenses.
As employees are tasked with taking more control of their retirement savings, employers are starting to talk more about “health and wealth.” How do employees stay healthy in the moment and plan for the future beyond their 401(k) plan? Employers realize that education and financial wellness programs are needed to help workers feel more confident about saving, investing, planning for retirement and managing debt. They also recognize that employees who have a sound financial footing have lower absentee rates.
4. More self-service and increasing transparency.
The “consumerism” movement is evolving. Employees increasingly want to take control of their benefits. They want and expect their benefits to work like any online shopping experience. They expect flexible self-service options that they can access via their mobile phones and tablets so they can easily make their benefits decisions anywhere, like at their kitchen table with input from their family.
Forget paper forms and in-person enrollment meetings. They want a one-stop shop where they can make all their decisions from dental to disability insurance online. As the range and types of benefit offerings increase, employees will be able to pay their cellphone bills, auto insurance and home loans online as part of their benefits plan and see how those deductions directly impact their paycheck. This adds up to greater choices, more simplicity and increased transparency.
Employees are also expecting increased transparency when it comes to tackling rising health care costs. They want decision support based on detailed cost algorithms that help them understand their true out of pocket costs based on plans, doctors or facilities selected.
5. Paid leave benefits pick up.
The popularity of paid leave is rising and will continue to gain traction in the coming year. We’ve seen new paid leave laws popping up lately at the state, federal and even local levels, and more large companies have been extending paid leave policies to include everything from adoption benefits to infertility treatments.
This trend is expected to continue as the number of dual-earner families rises, married couples increasingly share childcare responsibilities, and more Gen Xers tackle caring for their own children as well as aging parents. Watch out for talk about the United States moving to six weeks of guaranteed paid maternity leave by amending federal unemployment insurance laws. This could be a game changer and is definitely something to keep on your radar as the new administration begins its term.
A word to the wise: If you’re not offering a mix of benefits that enhances your employee engagement strategy, you’re running the risk of employees leaving for a company that does. Innovative employers are doing everything they can to transform benefits into a business asset. Forget cookie cutter plans focused primarily on health care. The future of benefits lies in mass personalization—benefits offerings that keep every generation engaged and help differentiate your business as a place that values benefits as an asset that attracts and retains top talent.